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Vale William 'Bill' H. Payne (1926-2005)

Peter Olde

Editor's Note: It is now 12 months since the passing of Bill Payne. There is little doubt that Bill had a polarising effect on many people - he could be stubborn and iracible in his single-minded efforts to produce ASGAP's journal 'Australian Plants' but few people have done as much to promote the cultivation of the Australian flora. While we are not in the habit of publishing personal tributes, in the case of Bill Payne, the following is well overdue.

The indomitable Bill Payne has died after a long battle with cancer. He slipped away on Saturday, November 5, 2005 at St Joseph's Hospital Auburn aged 79. Thus passed one of our Society's greatest achievers and most dedicated servants.

In 1957 Bill attended inaugural meetings of the Society for Growing Australian Plants in Melbourne and Sydney and in October 1957 founded with others the East Hills District Group, of which he remained a member continuously from its inception. He became editor of the Federal body's Journal in September 1959 and produced the first edition of Australian Plants in December of that year. He was also for one year President of the Society in New South Wales (1976-77) and was made a Life Member in March 1972, nominated by his friend of many years Noel Gane, a co-worker with similar interests. He received the Australian Plants Award in the Amateur Category in 1993. Most of his numerous achievements are listed in an excellent tribute to him published in Australian Plants Vol 21 No 173 (December 2002). It was his achievement as editor of Australian Plants for over 40 years, producing 170 issues, that marked him out as someone special.

   Bill Payne
   Photo: Australian Flora Foundation

Bill rose from humble beginnings, trained to become an electrical engineer and ultimately took charge of the electricity supply of Sydney's western districts for the Sydney County Council, retiring in 1981 at age 55. One of his hobbies was square dancing, an activity which he enjoyed with his wife Beryl and one at which he became highly adept. Bill gave great support to anyone who tried to achieve things, especially authors and organisers, believing strongly that we need to continually present the Australian flora to the public. He was a great campaigner, who thought ahead, and came up with plans to implement his ideas. Memorable events that he used to advantage were the Australian Bicentennial, The Olympics, Year 2000, the government funding for which he thought the Australian flora should share. In his latter years especially, he became also a vocal conservationist, using the editor's platform to preach his concerns and urge a better way forward. He strongly supported the commercial cut-flower industry, being opposed to the confusion of South African flora with Australian as 'native' and advocating an industry that sustained itself from cultivated rather than wild source.

Bill had a complex personality and was, like most of us, a man of many strengths and weaknesses. He had had no training as an editor. It was all done on the job. The beginning of his editorship was not easy and he had opposition from Thistle Stead (nee Harris) who felt the journal would impact on sales of her books. He also had support, particularly from botanists like Jim Willis in Melbourne and Roger Carolin in Sydney. By sheer perseverance and dedication, he not only built up but took personal ownership of Australian Plants even though it wasn't his, and often felt personally insulted and threatened when it underwent criticism or when he perceived it might be taken away from him, as it eventually was in rather unhappy circumstances in 2001.

In the years to 1980, most biennial conferences were spent arguing about Australian Plants - the quality of colour photos or editorial standards, especially the size of the journal, or the front cover which was occasionally illegible because the colours did not contrast sufficiently. His habit of breaking articles up and placing parts on different pages to completely fill the spaces infuriated some, not to speak of his controversial habit of editing author's work without approval. He absolutely refused to allow references to be cited. Some people did not like the way he bled photos to the edge of the page without a defining collar, or crammed them all together on a few pages. He got many photographers offside with his habit of returning slides out of their mounts or not at all in some cases. Many however were happy to see their effort in print.

In these debates Bill was at his political best, marshalling support from delegates and arguing convincingly black was white if indeed he thought it was. He was tenacious and usually victorious. It was the battle that mattered not the point at issue, which he would sometimes quietly concede, as he did with the quality of photo reproduction. His problem was the misplaced loyalty he gave to his printer. Ultimately ownership and management of the journal passed from the Federal Body to the New South Wales body, which demanded even more thorough management and greater editorial control than the Federal Body before it. Thereafter debates were confined to NSW Council which decided that the best way of dealing with its problems was to institute a Publishing Committee and make the editor answerable to it. Bill was self-motivated and took his own counsel. He would make great pretence at working with committees, such as the Publishing Committee, without however giving away too much and provided it did everything he wanted. Bill felt the weight keenly and did not like 'interference'. He was also very disappointed that some states ultimately adopted the niggardly approach of making receipt of the journal a voluntary part of their membership. Bill rightly felt that it threatened the viability of its own flagship journal by reducing economies of scale, and increasing the cost to those who continued. How could you be a member of a society and not receive its journal? Indeed.

Bill spent great amounts of his personal time in attending meetings and conferences where he would seek out and cajole potential authors to write for the journal. He was not afraid of approaching people from the top of the scientific ladder to the ordinary gardener. The Flora of Australia project was a great source of potential articles. He was keen to make the journal accessible to everyone, translating or even removing botanical jargon whenever he could. He could be stubborn, argumentative and difficult but he was a dedicated man to whom no problem was insoluble. His personal faults were also his strengths and, in the end, trivial by comparison with his life achievement. His legacy is the journals he edited now found in libraries throughout Australia and the world. How many can lay claim to such an achievement? Well done, Bill. The Australian flora has lost a great supporter. The Australian plant-loving community extend their deepest sympathy to his wife, Beryl, his four children, and several grand-children.

From 'Australian Plants', journal of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants, December 2005.

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